Lynx boldly goes where no-one has gone before
Man’s ongoing quest to understand the origins of the universe is currently getting a helping hand from an unlikely source: Woking-based optical inspection innovator, Vision Engineering. The Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, based in Mainz, Germany, has recently purchased several of Vision’s advanced Lynx™ inspection systems for use in its Cosmochemistry and Geochemistry departments, from where the study of solar system materials takes place.
The user-friendly Lynx utilises a viewer assembly rather than eyepieces to deliver a pin sharp stereo image and permit a greater degree of body position freedom for the operator. It is currently being employed by the Institute to help study isotopic compositions of various compounds found in meteorites, and will also soon be used to study lunar samples brought back from the moon landings, and interplanetary dust particles. The samples include materials that, in all likelihood, come from the planet Mars, as well as tiny particles within the most unprocessed meteorites that predate the Earth’s solar system, known as ‘stardust’.
“The Lynx is used as part of a technique called Thermal Ionisation Mass Spectrometry, or TIMS”, explains Uli Ott, Senior Scientist at the Max Planck Cosmochemistry department. “This is used to date samples and to identify isotopic abundance anomalies, which provide important information on the stellar sources of the chemical elements.” TIMS involves dissolving a given sample in acids and separating the relevant element to be studied using ion exchange columns. A microlitre of the solution is then deposited onto a small filament ribbon, typically just a millimetre wide and a few centimetres long, and made of tantalum, tungsten or rhenium. Special chemicals are then added to improve the yield and dry the ribbon before it is loaded into a mass spectrometer.
“In order to get the best results, the deposition process is vital”, states Ott. “When depositing such a small amount of liquid onto such a small area, and trying to get that liquid in a central position, a clear view of the process is imperative. That is where the Lynx comes into its own.”
The ergonomic Lynx delivers a high resolution image to the eyepieceless stereo viewer using Vision’s patented dynascopic disk. The unique infinity-corrected afocal design makes the apparent distance to the viewed object image identical to that of the real object, eliminating re-focussing of the operator’s eye to reduce the likelihood of fatigue. Lynx also benefits from a large field of view, magnification of up to x160 and a superior camera offtake. The large working distance between the Lynx objective lens and the filament ribbon makes manipulation easy and improves hand-to-eye co-ordination, as Ott explains: “With such a good view, the deposition of the solution onto the filament ribbon is at an optimum. This provides the highest possible signals in the mass spectrometer and, therefore, the highest accuracy in isotopic ratios.”
“Historically we have used a camera and video screen, or standard microscopes”, says Ott. “But the Lynx allows relaxed and easy 3-dimensional viewing that not only aids the operator, but also enhances the end results we get from the spectrometer tests. It is uniquely suited to the application in the Cosmochemistry department and is a great addition to our facility and capabilities.”